In Surakarta, Central Java, practically all the old and historic mosques are more crowded and livelier, from the fast-breaking hour to the evening.
Mosques like Masjid Laweyan, dating from 1546; Masjid Agung Surakarta, dating from 1763; and Al Wustho Mangkunegaran from 1855 — which are quiet most of the year — regain a lost dynamism during Ramadhan.
Worshippers from Surakarta and nearby towns like Sukoharjo, Karanganyar, Sragen and Wonogiri swarm the city’s mosques, with old mosques also uniquely managing the optional ceremonies and traditions of Ramadhan like tarawih, khataman (reciting the Koran by heart) and iktikaf (staying in a mosque for worship) in the last 10 days of the fasting month.
“During Ramadhan, I always join tarawih at Masjid Agung. This is the court’s heritage and believe it or not, we’ll be blessed,” said Prasojo, who came all the way from Kismantoro in Wonogiri, more than 90 kilometers from Surakarta.
Tarawih in the mosque of the Kasunanan Court of Surakarta features two groups with different modes of worship, one applying 11 rakaat (prayer ritual movements) and the other 23 rakaat.
“When performing isya [obligatory evening prayers], the entire congregation is under one imam. After that they separate for tarawih with their respective imams,” said Masjid Agung executive chair H. Slamet Aby.
The two groups occupy separate rooms in the mosque and usually the 23-rakaat group begins their tarawih earlier, followed a bit later by the other group. The volume of the speakers is adjusted so neither group disturbs the other.
“This is a tradition of pluralism and tolerance at this mosque that has gone on for decades. It began in the 1980s,” said Slamet Aby, adding that originally those that performed 23 rakaat were more numerous.
In 1983, K.H. Muthohar Al Hafidz, head of the Ta’fid Wattaqlimil Qur’an Islamic boarding school in the mosque complex, separated the groups. “It’s tolerated as long as no Islamic law is violated as a reflection of solidarity and mutual respect,” he said.
The separation is only during tarawih, after which the two gather again for tadarusan (group readings of the Koran).
“I’ve joined tarawih here for ten Ramadhans and everything has been fine,” said Suratman, a Wonogiri resident and 11-rakaat adherent.
Historic: Masjid Al Wustho Mangkunegaran in Surakarta was built during the reign of Mangkunegoro I.Ramadhan in Surakarta’s oldest mosque, Masjid Laweyan, also has a unique feature. The mosque, built in 1546 during the time of the Pajang Kingdom, is a pilgrimage destination. It is said that the religious experience of Surakarta residents is not complete until they have visited the tombs behind the mosque.
In the royal cemetery are the tombs of Ki Ageng Henis, a forebear of the Mataram kings, and Mataram sovereigns, consorts and relatives like Pakubuwono II, the consorts of Pakubuwono V, Nyi Ageng Pandanaran, Nyi Ageng Pati and Prince Widjil I Kadilangu.
Unsurprisingly, the mosque and cemetery located on the fringes of Laweyan, known as a batik center, is always crowded with pilgrims during Ramadhan. Devotees practice ascetic acts and bring offerings like incense and petal water to the tombs.
“Aside from regular people, some officials and public figures also come here for blessings. They seek marriage partners, rank promotions and recover from illnesses,” said mosque and graveyard caretaker Nur Amin Mahmudi.
At night, particularly on Thursdays, the mosque — which has distinctive Hindu-Javanese architecture — is increasingly packed by those performing iktikaf, the number growing as the end of Ramadhan nears.
At prayer: Tarawih or Ramadhan evening prayers are performed at Masjid Agung Surakarta.“In the last 10 days of the fasting month, all the doors leading to the main building of the mosque will be opened for iktikaf,” Nur said.
Masjid Al Wustho Mangkunegaran is marked by its khataman tradition. Every evening during the fasting month, the voices of people reciting the Koran can be heard from the mosque built during the reign of Mangukunegoro I and renovated by Thomas Herman Karsten in 1878.
The recitations begin before fast-breaking and continue after tarawih until midnight.
“Some groups engage in khataman for a week, others do it for two weeks and still others for a month,” said Masjid Al Wustho executive H.M. Thoha Musthofa. Over the last five years, 40 to 50 people have joined the Ramadhan recitation at Al Wustho, mostly local residents, he said.
The mosque will get livelier on the 21st day of the fasting month, called malam selikuran, when a lot of people from other areas visit Al Wustho for iktikaf. They will spend the night to join tadarusan and later seek blessings from the thousand-moon night or lailatulkadar on the 27th day of the month, he said.